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Problems Cause Stress; Stress Causes Problems

by Gary Bushkin, MS, CNC and Estitta Bushkin, MS, CNC, New Pioneer Co-op, Iowa City, IA

What is stress?
Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines stress as “the sum of the biological reactions to any adverse stimulus, physical, mental or emotional, external or internal that tends to disturb the organism’s homeostasis.”

Unfortunately, that neat little definition is meaningless mumbo jumbo to millions of us who know the real life meaning of stress firsthand. “Stressing out” occurs quite easily these days. The workaholic boss that is always pressing you can give you mega stress all week long, and also a dose to take home for the weekend. Frequent arguments with your spouse, parents or children can push you to the breaking point. Declining or life threatening health situations, the passing of a loved one, or “too much month at the end of the money,” can make you throw your arms into the air in despair and disgust. Unhealthy food choices in your diet and those rushed “gulp it down” eating habits can put you in an overload mode.

Effectively managing emotional stress is virtually impossible for many. The facts are ugly. Almost 65% of adults in the U.S. tell researchers that they suffer from great stress. (Applied Biometrics, November 1998.) More than 19 million are chronically depressed, and an incredible 23 million are afflicted with chronic anxiety disorders. In 1998, Americans spent nearly $5 billion on antidepressants.

“Learn to relax” is an overused phrase that means nothing when we frequently feel upset, angry, confused, frightened and out of control. Do you fit this seemingly dismal picture? Read on.

Chronic stress is harmful
You are probably not aware that stress is silently and relentlessly destroying your health. Unchecked, the outcome is sometimes fatal. A closer look shows us that emotional and physical stress triggers the production of adrenaline, a hormone intended to be manufactured on demand by the adrenal glands in times of “fight or flight” response. By shunting energy away from thinking and digestion, the body maximizes heart, lung and muscle energy.

Cortisol, another adrenal hormone, accelerates heart rate, breaks down muscle tissue and raises serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the process. Modern day stress is primarily emotional rather than physical. The excess adrenaline is slowly and inefficiently metabolized, becoming a destructive free radical substance that destroys cells throughout the body.
In addition, stress:

  • Suppresses the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to attack by invading pathogens like bacteria, viruses and parasites.
  • Negatively impacts emotional well being by causing prolonged imbalances in brain chemicals that control and tune emotions, feelings and actions.
  • Lessens the ability to think clearly.
  • Upsets digestion, causing symptoms and problems like ulcers, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea.

Can natural remedies help?
For effective stress busting, we need to harness an arsenal of therapies and remedies that will correct nutritional deficiencies and physiological damage.

Natural stress fighters have been touted as “tonics” for both the mind and body. Immune system boosters, powerful antioxidants, memory enhancers, and life extenders. Do they work? You bet your life on it!

The stress busting stockpile of natural weapons is awesome. It seems like everyone’s searching for them these days. Even doctors are talking about them. Here’s why, and how:

  • They are precursors to the formation of metabolic neurotransmitter substances like serotonin that are critical to brain signaling and function.
  • They support adrenal gland function.
  • They stimulate the immune system.
  • They are powerful antioxidants and coenzymes that assist other nutrients.

Supplements that may improve your internal landscape

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a nutrient superstar that is essential for life. Needed by the adrenal glands along with vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) to manufacture the stress hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol), vitamin C stimulates the immune system to produce the potent virus-killing protein interferon, which prevents metabolic stress. It is also the body’s premier water-soluble, free-radical scavenging antioxidant, and is critically needed to produce collagen, the connective glue that literally holds the body together. 1,000-3,000 mg daily.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an incredibly powerful fat-soluble antioxidant that reduces blood pressure and a natural blood thinner that prevents life-threatening clots. 400 IU daily.

Chromium is a mineral required in trace amounts by the pancreas to produce the blood sugar regulating hormone insulin. Adequate insulin levels effectively clear excess sugar from the bloodstream. Balanced levels prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) which typically results in depression, lethargy brain fog, exhaustion and craving for more sugary foods. 400 mcg daily.

Magnesium is an essential macromineral with antispasmodic properties that naturally relaxes muscles. This effect prevents constriction of airways, common in panic attacks and other high stress situations. It also prevents over-constriction of the arteries, which causes high blood pressure. 400-800 mg daily.

Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance whose main function is producing the body’s energy. It works in the heart’s millions of energy furnaces called mitochondria, igniting the chemical reaction that turns sugar (glucose), the fuel, into energy molecules, called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). It is also a powerful immune system stimulator and antioxidant. 60-120mg daily.

5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is derived from the African griffonia seed (Griffonia simplicifolia). It is a natural precursor to the calming neurotransmitter hormones serotonin and dopamine.

Grapeseed Extract
A new study has found that grapeseed extract significantly reduced stress-induced gastrointestinal injury. The study, conducted by Creighton University Health Sciences Center in Omaha, NE, was performed using InterHealth’s ActivinTM grapeseed extract. Grapeseed extract was shown to provide significant protection against both acute and chronic stress-induced gastrointestinal injury by scavenging free radicals and minimizing the damage they cause.

Kava Kava
The Polynesians have been using Kava Kava (Piper methysticum), a pepper family herb, for hundreds of years as a ceremonial “feel good” tonic. Kavalactones, the active substances found in the root, are natural skeletal muscle relaxants that work on the limbic system (control center for feelings of fear, anger and sadness). Kava Kava offers a nontoxic, nonaddictive way to take the edge off without affecting coordination, the ability to function, or the side effects of prescription benzodiazepine drugs. 250-300 mg standardized extract (30% kavalactones) 2-3X daily.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) contains valpotriates that give sedative action and promote sleep. 150-300 mg at bedtime.

St. John’s Wort
The flowering tops of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) contain the active substances hypericin and hyperforin, considered natural antidepressants for the treatment of mild to moderate depression. St. John’s wort gives the mood a lift, and alleviates anxiety. Dozens of clinical studies worldwide have clearly shown that St. John’s Wort is as equally effective as Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil, the most prescribed drugs for mild to moderate depression. Although good for most people, St. John’s wort is strongly contraindicated when taking prescription antidepressants, particularly MAO inhibitors, and during pregnancy or lactation. 300 mg standardized extract (.3% hypericin) 2-3X daily.

One of the newest supplements to hit the natural health horizon is SAM-e (s-adenosyl methionine), a complex amino acid. Used extensively in Europe for years, it works as a powerful mood lifter by stimulating the production of the calming neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

Herbal teas
Herbal teas are an excellent way to reap the benefits of calming herbs. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) has been the longtime European favorite to relax and soothe body and mind. Passion flower tea has been sipped along the South American Amazon since 1569 for its sedative, tranquilizing and calming properties.

Homeopathic remedies
Homeopathic remedies are a particularly simple way to get stress relief. Remedies like Aconitum napellus, Calc. carb, Coffea cruda, Pulsatilla nigricans and Ignatia amara are an increasing popular way to subdue your stress. Tiny pellets taken under the tongue several times daily seem to take the edge off for many people.

Moderate exercise
Physical exercise is extremely effective at reducing stress. Each time you exercise, natural pain killing and sleep inducing endorphins are produced. Muscle movement activates the lymphatic system, removing biological wastes killed by the charged up immune system. During exercise, the mind is distracted from unpleasant thoughts. Levels of glucagon, a fat burning hormone increase during exercise, keeping blood sugar levels in balance, preventing hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) lows.

Relaxation techniques and behavioral changes

  • Learn and practice deep diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Release physical tension with tense/relax exercises, relaxation tapes and biofeedback techniques.
  • Clear your mind by creating a single focus such as a mental image, sound, chant, or thoughts that prevents your mind from thinking about anything else.
  • Rest pleasurably in your comfortable spot by the fire, at the beach, fishing, listening to your favorite music, reading a good book or magazine undisturbed by people or phone.
  • Get uninterrupted restful sleep.
  • Develop a positive attitude by thinking and speaking positive thoughts about things you’d like to change.
  • Listen to the musical sounds of nature or your personal favorite music.
  • In addition, aromatherapy, using special essential oils, is a terrific stress buster. You can use one or several of the soothing and uplifting fragrances available in health food stores and body/bath shops to evoke pleasurable sensations that smooth rough emotional edges. Time-tested favorites include chamomile oil, geranium oil, lavender oil, and Oil of Melissa. Diffusers or scented candles will spread the essences.

Gary Bushkin, MS, CNC, and Estitta Buskin, MS, CNC, each received their degrees from the Clayton College of Natural Health. They have coauthored FAQ’s All About Green Foods (Avery) and FAQ’s All about Folic Acid (Avery).